A Runaway Slave Predicts "Freedom Will Reign"

During the Civil War, John Boston, like many other slaves, took advantage of the nearby presence of Union troops to runaway. But in this case, Boston had run into a Union camp in Maryland, a slave state fighting on the side of the Union. This meant that the regiment from Brooklyn that was providing him sanctuary was defying Union policy. Boston's master was a loyal Unionist in a border state that had sided with the North. Maryland authorities seized this letter, either before or after Boston's wife received it. These officials then demanded that the Union Army return Boston to his owner. It is not known what happened to him. But the courage of John Boston—and that of thousands of others who fled to Union lines to escape slavery—became a tremendous moral example that helped move northern war policy from the goal of union to that of freedom.

My Dear Wife:

It is with great joy that I take this time to let you know where I am. I am now in the safety of the 14th Regiment of Brooklyn. This day I can address you thank God as a free man. I had a little trouble in getting away, but as the Lord led the children of Israel to the land of Canaan so he led me to a land where freedom will reign despite earth and hell. Dear you must make yourself content that I am free from the slaver's lash. And as you have chosen the wise plan of serving the Lord serve him with all my heart. I am with a very nice man and have all that heart can wish. But my dear I can't express my great desire that I have to see you. I trust the time will come when we shall meet again. And if we don't meet on earth we will meet in heaven where Jesus reigns....

John Boston

Give my love to father and mother

Source | "Letter from John Boston, a runaway slave, to his wife, Elizabeth, January 12, 1862," National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s–1917; available online at "Eyewitness: American Originals from the National Archives," http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/eyewitness/html.php?section=9
Creator | John Boston
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | John Boston, “A Runaway Slave Predicts "Freedom Will Reign",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 24, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1762.